It is an early winter’s day in downtown Chicago. Just south of Union Station on Canal Street, between Jackson and Van Buren a diverse group of strangers wait for a bus to arrive. Some are college students waiting to be taken to their campus in Madison, Wisconsin. Some will make the full eight hour trip to Minneapolis. I am one of them.
I pass two dread-locked lovers who smile at me. I return their greeting and take a spot along the wall between a thirty-something man and a twenty-something woman sitting on her suitcase.
Beyond her, there is an African American man in his twenties. He has close-cut hair and friendly eyes that grab my attention. He has two jackets, layered, and he takes one of them off and lays it on top of his green duffel bag on the sidewalk. I make note of the sweat pants he’s wearing: they are a deep red velvet material.
He leaves his things on the sidewalk and crosses the street to a restaurant to get a little something to eat while we wait. While he’s gone, a young girl walks up, carrying a child who I guess is about eleven months old. The girl can’t be more than seventeen. She is laden with an overstuffed backpack strapped to her back. Her right arm is laced through a diaper bag and her right hand grasps a plastic shopping bag. It’s all she can do to hold her sleeping baby, who is bundled snuggly in pink from head to toe. Mother alternates positions for the baby, hoping to give her arms a rest by the adjustment. First, baby’s head is over Mom’s left shoulder, but then the baby’s head keeps flopping to one side, then backward, then to the side again, so Mom adjusts again. Now she’s holding the baby horizontally, face to the sky—but gravity keeps bending the baby’s neck uncomfortably. Now Mom holds her under the child’s armpits, straight out in front of her, and baby keeps sleeping vertically. Mom’s arms can’t take this for too long, so she tries position one again.
Finally, it’s too much for her to handle. She sets the baby down on the sidewalk and the child cries for being awakened. I offer too late to help and Mom thinks it strange that a 40-something goateed stranger should offer assistance out of the blue. She smiles and politely says, “That’s okay.”
Some conversation now: she’s going to Minneapolis for a short time.
I am, too. It’s supposed to snow there tomorrow.
We are in traffic now, bumper to bumper. The sun has just disappeared below the horizon and the bus has taken on more passengers. The bus driver gets back on the highway, smack into a traffic jam and heads the wrong direction. He realizes his error after the traffic loosens, so he turns around—into another traffic jam.
We will be late to our destination.
When we arrive, I hope there will be someone there to help this young woman and her baby. I suppose I will keep an eye out when we get off to make sure she’s taken care of.
I wonder how many drifters the world has seen since a young family of three made their lonely way from Bethlehem to Egypt. If God leads his people out of a place with a pillar of fire he leads them back to that place with a displaced, anonymous infant.